Tracing Your Roots Back to Africa: A Primer Course


The guiding light for my journey has been the elusive African American genealogical dream–to trace the family story back to the African continent.  Why?  Because we want closure from the wounds of our past, we want to feel more whole, we want to be able to pass something on to the next generation and we want our American story to be complete. We have DNA companies but there is more to it than that–we can connect documentation with DNA with other tools to try to figure out the puzzle.  Figuring out that puzzle can be daunting for many.  That’s why I am going to lead crash courses or multi-session courses on how to trace your roots back to Africa using all the tools we currently have.

I was inspired by the story of Alex Haley and my many others.  As stories began to gather of successful links made back to Africa along with the ever developing science of DNA, I began to put together the pieces of a body of knowledge unique to African American genealogy.  Most Black genealogy books can only tell you how to get back to the last two generations born in slavery using the census.  For some scaling the wall may be possible, for others, it will be almost impossible to surmount.  The courses I will be offering this winter and spring are meant to help make a personal, scholarly sound and meaningful connection back to your African roots no matter where you fall on the genealogical spectrum.

For some of us the problem is information overload.  There’s simply too much out there to digest to begin to interpret the tantalizing details and information we find.  Other times, people can be quick to claim identities and ethnic groups without knowing the full cultural and historical context.  We weren’t taught this stuff in school, and traditional genealogy sites don’t really do an effective job of relaying to African Americans the necessary background needed to un-crack the code of our unique American story.  From African history, cultural overviews, and understanding the basic science behind DNA there is a lot to learn.  We can reinvent and re-present our stories and pass them down.  The following course sequence is meant to give you the keys to do that.

The information discussed in the classes is not meant to be generic. It is supposed to be practical and engaging for each genealogical researcher.

What you Get:

The Crash Course:  4.5 Hours–We do the entire course of study in a half-day.  All of the same reading materials are included.

The Four Week Course (DC and Baltimore areas only):  1.5 hours per week .  We do an hour and a half class each week in a consistent location thoroughly reviewing the  ideas and material of each class.  The subject matter is the same whether we take half a day or four weeks.

Hour One:  The Old Country: Understanding Historical West and Central Africa in the African American Context

We will:

  • Put African countries, cultures and histories in context as they relate to African Americans
  • Review how ethnicity, trade, enslavement and migration work in determining a fluid and flexible understanding of identity in historic West and Central Africa
  • Identify the key regions sourced by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and how those areas relate to specific points in the New World
  • Clear up myths and misconceptions and misnomers in the relaying of information about the slave trade, African ethnic groups and how genealogical connections are established.
  • Hour Two: A New World:  Understanding how they became Americans

We will:

  • Re-examine how enslaved people were bought, selected, distributed in North America and how their skills, knowledge, abilities and cultural backgrounds affected their dispersal.
  • Begin to apply our own individual family histories to the information by tracing the lines of the trade in relationship to our family trees.
  • Look at pitfalls and challenges we have in connecting the coasts and tracing the movement of enslaved Africans and their acculturation.
  • Investigate naming patterns and processes by which enslaved Africans reaffirmed their identities and what elements they passed down or were able to retain.

Hour Three:  Cast Studies: Stories and Clues to Linking Africa with America through oral history and written documentation.

We will:

  • Overview examples of families that have been successful in tracing their family stories across the ocean for clues, tips, hints and connections.
  • Review documents for hints of connections to Africa, especially searching for ways in which African identities or connections were noted, detailed or remarked upon.
  • Survey the scholarly literature for other clues like language, vocabulary, foodways, occupations and cultural patterns that persisted in families from generation to generation and use medical data in our search.
  • Document the African connections and carryovers in our own family trees.
  • Discuss ways to make the narrative concrete, consistent and clear as we write family histories and retell our history at reunions.

Hour Four :  DNA evidence: Understanding how it works for African Americans


We will:

  • Discuss the blessings and pitfalls of using DNA as a source material in our research.
  • Understand how DNA evidence works in contemporary genealogy and what our results really mean.
  • Learn to distinguish between DNA companies and what they offer for the genealogical researcher.
  • Discuss how to get the most out of DNA as a tool for making the leap back to our African origins without overreaching too much.
  • Affirm the importance of consistency and integrity in our work.

Light Refreshments will be Provided.  

How Much:  The fee is purposely low so that as many people as possible can attend.  If you are an AAGHS (African American Genealogical and Historical Society) member in good standing you automatically get a discount.

45$ with AAGHS membership discount in DC or Baltimore

55$ with AAGHS membership discount outside DC or Baltimore

65$ without  AAGHS membership anywhere 

10$ for Research Materials packet.


I am based in the DC and Baltimore areas and Philadelphia and Richmond are within a day’s travel without having to need to stay overnight.  I can travel to do courses for folks as far north as Boston and as far south as Charleston/Savannah/Atlanta on the east coast.  I will be willing to expand where I conduct a class based on need.  Other fees will apply as well.   To justify a class out of town I need at least 25 participants and a sponsoring space (i.e. a free or subsidized space where the class can be conducted.)  Because of travel and accommodation costs the fee goes up outside of DC and Baltimore but not by much–this is meant to be an affordable, one stop clearinghouse for information  Only the 4 hour crash course is available outside of DC and Baltimore (even Richmond and Philadelphia) (the same reading materials and resource packet is included).  

I will not be using Skype or any other service that requires the use of a stable connection at this time.  I do not want to have folks angry with me because technology failed.  Plus, I want to be able to successfully interact with my audience.  When time and resources allow I will be happy to do an electronic class–but for now–let’s keep it face to face.


No classes will be held in February due to my travel and work schedule.

Based on demand classes will be scheduled and held in January, March, April, May and June, and August.  

I will gladly work with family reunions in class groups of 40 or less.  


For inquiries write me at to make inquiries about classes, locations, or to organize a class for your groups or organizations.  Crash courses can also be conducted as corporate events as well.   



16 comments on “Tracing Your Roots Back to Africa: A Primer Course

  1. Hi- I can help with supplies for your amazing event. Email me your list and quantities.


  2. Avis Strong

    Can you help us do something like this in East Texas?


  3. Karen Essig

    Michael I am a Chef that just moved to the Raleigh area from Annapolis. I SO want to be part of this. Please let me know how I can help. Blessings and Mazel Tov!


  4. Tiffany S.

    Hi Michael, I live not far away in the Hampton Roads area. I have to say, it’s so interesting finding your website as I thought I was a breed of my own. I’m a history major, work at Jamestown Settlement/Yorktown Victory center in Williamsburg and I went to culinary school! Food and history pretty much sum up my life. Any way, if you need any help from this event, I would love to be apart of it. What a wonderful learning experience. I can be reached at


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  7. Hello Michael, just happen to come across your blog via twitter. It would be nice to have one of these dishes at The Southern Classic Food and Beverage Show in Atlanta this Labor Day Weekend. If you or anyone on your staff is interested in doing so we will provide space at the event and to educate us as well. If you have any literature that you would like to share about your upcoming event Dinner in Historic Stagville, please send and we will share with the attendees.


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  10. I would love this for California… I have to think of a way…


  11. Any trips to Bay Area planned for 2015? I would love to do this and will rally pals around any pre-existing travel dates.


  12. Hello Michael,
    I’d like to start by saying Thank You for the work you are doing and encouraging others to find the truth about our culture. I have taken on a similar person project that involves looking at the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the food of our ancestors. I have not nailed down every aspect of the project yet, but I do find myself no knowing where to begin. From the description of your course, it sounds like it would be perfect for what I am trying to do. I live in Rhode Island now , but native to Washington D.C area. Do you have information on any classes you will be doing through the summer? I don’t have a group of people to organize a class at this time, but if possible I would love to join a class. Thanks in advance!


  13. Pingback: Tracing Your Roots | Highly Textured Librarian

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